The Asian Art Museum in SF is free on the first Sunday of the month–so I had to go. Taking pictures here convinced me that I need to bite the bullet and buy a new camera–this old iPhone can only do so much. So, I only took a few pics. Here are some of the highlights.
The museum is huge. They recommend that you start on the third floor and work your way back down to the main level. As the escalator reaches the third floor, you are met by a statue of the Hindu deity Ganesha. This gives visitors the chance to acknowledge/pay tribute before beginning your tour of the exhibits. There is a slot where you can leave an offering/donation — and a sign asking that people not put candles or other offerings on the statue itself.
The challenge of going to a museum–or exploring any kind of history, really–is remembering that you are not getting the point of view of the people from that time period. The information you are getting has been filtered through the education and biases of many others before it finds it’s way to your little gray cells. It would be nice if tidbits that were displayed nonchalantly as facts had an * to let you know a particular point has other interpretations.
This piece depicts the Hindu deities Shiva and Parvati (sometimes called Shakti) combined as the androgynous deity Ardhanarishvara. There are several different stories of how Ardhanarishvara came to be (many can be found here) which allows for many interpretations. As far as religion is concerned, I think seeing the masculine and feminine displayed together in a divine image underscores the importance of both of them within humans.
This is the Buddhist deity Simhavaktra Dakini, an enlightened goddess of the Gelug order of Tibetan Buddhism who clears obstacles from the paths of those who seek enlightenment and provides inspiration and knowledge. (Unfortunately, I couldn’t find much information outside of the museum’s own website.)
The placard in the museum describes the deity this way:
Her hair blazes upward with the fire of wisdom.
Her lion head indicates fearlessness in confronting all obstacles to liberation.
Her cape is made of freshly flayed human skin, signifying her transcendence of the limitations of the human condition.
The bone ornaments on her chest indicate that she has passed beyond the cycles of birth and death.
The tiger skin around her waist symbolizes victory over all harmful passions and deeds.
However, in the text on the museum’s website, the cape around her shoulders is said to be the skin from a demon. (If you listen to the audio on that page, the narrator sticks to the description in the museum.) I should mention that the museum provides (for free) and audio/video player that contains additional information about several exhibits.
Yesterday’s every day items is today’s art. This case contains a collection of snuff bottles. Below are some pieces close up.
Centuries from now, will the beings who interpret our culture think of mobile phones (and their various incarnations) as art to be displayed in fancy cases protected by flesh burning lasers? We have all of this digital documentation but what if all of our currently languages pass away–or get translated through the biases of entities without human experience? Oh well, nothing we can do about it if that does happen.